About this blog...

I am a former leader of a Human Terrain Team in Iraq. My intent with this blog was to identify relevant, open-source materials on Iraqi culture, society, politics, religion and economics - just about anything on or about the Iraqi population in general.

I am continuing the blog now only sporadically, as a means of information distribution in support of efforts to improve a vital program hamstrung by failures in execution.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Playing with Numbers

There's been quite a bit in the press lately--Iraqi and international--about refugees suddenly returning to Iraq in droves. However, other reports have suggested that all the hype is just a government PR job that's been particularly effective, and that the numbers are pretty exaggerated.

This is important stuff, since it wasn't that long ago that all the reports were about refugees that were leaving the country in droves, or about the countries turning them away and the horrible conditions they faced in the few countries that would accept them.

Of course, all of this is beyond Iraq's internally displaced persons (refugees that don't cross a border)--both current and historical--and groups whose plight is so desperate that they came to Iraq as refugees.

It's no surprise that every little development gets lots of play in the media, though; as one of the reports noted, "returnees have essentially become a currency of progress".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The psychology (and economics) of terrorism

An article in the current issue of The American discusses the origins of terrorism -- or more specifically, the origins of terrorists. The conclusion? The popular belief that terrorism is a nihilistic act born of poverty-induced desperation is not quite it. Specifically,

"the available evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate educa­tion as important causes of support for terrorism or participation in terrorist activities. Such explana­tions have been embraced almost entirely on faith, not scientific evidence."

Actually, most terrorists really are committed true believers, willing to die for their cause. Within the Muslim world, the researcher found a positive relationship between level of education and support for terrorism -- the higher your level of education, the more likely you are to support terrorism against Western (including Israeli) targets. Suicide bombers also tended to be better educated than the average population. He didn't find any strong correlation at all with wealth or poverty, although some evidence even suggests that suicide bombers had a slight tendency to come from a higher average socio-economic background than the rest of society.

What does this mean? That addressing terrorism is about more than addressing poverty, or putting military-aged males to work. (Although these things never hurt.) Fortunately, efforts are underway to address more than just poverty as a source of terrorism. Normally, I'd be a little leary of an American effort to introduce "religious enlightenment," but we've reached the point where it's time to give just about any innovative approach a try. Maybe we can just take a page from the Saudi's book, and distract them with Playstations...

These are important issues to address since another recent study finds that as a military tactic, the suicide bomber is increasingly "effective, numerous, adaptable and sophisticated."

Two things are important to remember with all of this, though. First, like any other social science, it's grossly oversimplistic to try and reduce a social phenomenon to one singe cause (such as economics or religious beliefs). You're doing great to even get a primary cause...

Second, and more important, is to recall that these studies are about global terrorism, and not an Iraqi insurgency. There might be significant overlap between these two phenomena, but then, there may not be. It's recently been suggested that little of the violence in Iraq (even little of the Sunni-insurgent violence) is related to the Salafi/Takfiri-type Al Qeada attacks. There may be something to this, since there's plenty to indicate that violence in Iraq has much more to do with political, religious or personal conflicts, or even plain old, racketeering-style profits.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Military Tourism

This post might not be all that relevant for the units the HTTs are here to support -- military tourism is hardly something most maneuver folks here are guilty of. But it was one of my biggest pet peeves when I was here last time--in the Green Zone--so I couldn't help but be disgusted when I stumbled upon this. The mentality associated with walking around this nation like it's your own little sight-seeing trip stuns me. You look at the backgrounds of the authors - a CA guy and an NGO guy - and you just expect better of them. Instead, every local they saw on their sight-seeing wound up seeing the ultimate in ugly American tourists. How can we claim any credibility in anything we do when they see that this is how seriously we take the responsibility we have assumed by doing what we as a nation have done here, and are claiming to do now.

I suppose it could be argued that by trying to explain the historical relevance of these sights, the authors are actually encouraging cultural understanding. It could be argued, that is, until you read tidbits like the fact that the 14 July Bridge was named for the 1985 revolution that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy. Yeah, that's right guys -- the Ba'ath Party finally thought to themselves "Hey, you know what? We're in the middle of a war with Iran, we've been running the country for almost 30 years, let's overthrow the monarchy!"

Thanks for the efforts you so very clearly expended in your time here, guys. There's nothing like a little understanding.